Consumer expectations have drastically changed throughout the course of the pandemic, and while consumers are raising their standards for loyalty, they are also willing to pay for the benefits they find most valuable from retailers. According to newly released data from Clarus Commerce, the only company solely focused on building, managing and optimizing customizable premium loyalty programs for retailers, more than three-quarters (76%) of consumers say they would pay for a premium loyalty program like Amazon Prime or CVS CarePass in which they pay a fee in exchange for immediate, exclusive benefits.

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For its third-annual report, “2021: Premium Loyalty Data Study, Meeting Rising Consumer Loyalty Expectations Post-Pandemic,” Clarus Commerce surveyed 2,500 U.S. consumers about their shopping habits and expectations for loyalty programs. The study aimed to gain a better understanding into the benefits customers expect and why, and how those expectations have changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clarus Commerce’s report discovered that following the aftermath of the disruptions and lockdowns in 2020, consumer loyalty is harder than ever to establish and traditional loyalty tactics are no longer enough. In fact, 68% of consumers agree that their loyalty is more difficult to maintain than ever before, suggesting the need for retailers to pivot their loyalty strategy if they want to meet customers’ shifting demands. What’s more, a majority (79%) of U.S. consumers no longer want to just accumulate loyalty points, and consumers believe retailers’ loyalty programs should provide immediate benefits to maintain their loyalty.

Seventy-percent of consumers say they currently belong to a premium loyalty program, compared to 66% in 2020 and 58% in 2019. Additionally, 90% of consumers say they’re likely to choose a retailer where they’re a premium loyalty member over another one offering a lower price, indicating there has never been a better time for retailers to get started on a premium loyalty program.

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Additional key findings from the report include:

  • Pandemic loyalty solidifies: Nearly three-quarters (73%) of premium loyalty members shopped more with retailers whose premium loyalty programs they were part of during the pandemic — a habit that will likely continue as 67% of respondents said they shop with those brands at least once a week.
  • Premium loyalty programs are gaining steam with traditional loyalty members: A majority of consumers (81%) say they are more likely to join a retailer’s premium loyalty program if they already belong to their traditional loyalty program, assuming they find the benefits valuable.
  • Consumers across generations will pay for the experiences they want: Consumers of all ages say they are likely to invest in a retailer’s premium loyalty program if they already belong to their traditional program, Gen Z being the generation most likely to have premium loyalty memberships.
  • Offering premium loyalty programs across various industries is key: Grocery rewards have become the top priority for shoppers that would consider premium programs (58%), followed by clothes and accessories (49%) and health and beauty (36%).

“The last year was a time of both major disruption and opportunity for growth across the retail industry. Given the pivot to e-commerce and accelerated digital adoption, many consumers have started breaking old habits and forming new ones, opening the door for retailers to foster loyalty and offer engaging experiences that meet customer needs,” said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce. “Benefits like points and birthday gifts are no longer enough to entice customers. Retailers must take their strategy to the next level, offering valuable rewards and instant gratification to establish long-lasting customer relationships that will withstand even the most difficult of times.”

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